There is more to life than we previously
imagined. Angels hide in every nook and cranny, magi masquerade as everyday
people, and shepherds wear the garments of day laborers. The whole earth is
brimming with glory for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
– Howard Thurman, ‘The Work of Christmas: The
Twelve Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman’ by Bruce G. Epperly
What does the Church think of Christ? The
Church’s answer is categorical and uncompromising, and it is this: That Jesus
Bar-Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the
most exact and literal sense of the words, the God “by whom all things were
made.” His body and brain were those of a common man; his personality was the
personality of God, so far as that personality could be expressed in human
terms. He was not a kind of demon pretending to be human; he was in every
respect a genuine living man. He was not merely a man so good as to be “like
God”—he was God.
Now, this is not just a pious commonplace: it is
not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things: that
for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and
subject to sorrows and death—he [God] had the honesty and courage to take his
own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his
own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not
exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole of human
experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping
restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation,
defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man. He was born
in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
Sayers, ‘The Greatest Drama Ever Staged’
“Everything necessary has been given us in the
Gospels. What is it? Firstly, the love of one’s neighbor–the supreme form of
living energy. Once it fills the heart of man it has to overflow and spend
itself. And secondly, the two concepts which are the main part of the make-up
of modern man–without them he is inconceivable–the idea of free personality and
of life regarded as sacrifice.”
Words from one of the great novels of the
twentieth century, a novel born out of the nightmare conditions of modern
totalitarianism–Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago. Again and again in this astonishing
work, Pasternak returns to the point, the point of vision that gave him his own
personal resource to fight back against the pressure to silence and conformity
in Stalin’s Russia.
“Something in the world had been changed. Rome
was at an end. The reign of numbers was at an end . . . The story of a a human life became the story
of God and filled the universe."
– Rowan Williams, ‘Choose Life, Christmas and
Easter Sermons in Canterbury Cathedral’
the Ninth Day of Christmas, something from Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944) who was
a significant Russian Orthodox theologian.
God wants to communicate to the world his divine
life and himself to "dwell" in the world, to become human, in order
to make of humankind a god too. That transcends the limits of human imagination
and daring, it is the mystery of the love of God "hidden from the
beginning in God" (Eph 3:9), unknown to the angels themselves (Eph 3:10; 1
Pet 1:12; 1Tim 3:16). The love of God knows no limits and cannot reach its
furthest limit in the fullness of the divine abnegation for the sake of the
world: the Incarnation. And if the very nature of the world, raised from
non-being to its created state, does not appear here as an obstacle, its fallen
state is not one either. God comes even to a fallen world; the love of God is
not repelled by the powerlessness of the creature, nor by his fallen image, nor
even by the sin of the world: the Lamb of God, who voluntarily bears the sins
of the world, is manifest in him. In this way, God gives all for the
divinization of the world and its salvation, and nothing remains that he has
not given. Such is the love of God, such is Love.
Such it is in the interior life of the Trinity,
in the reciprocal surrender of the three hypostases, and such it is in the
relation of God to the world. If it is in such a way that we are to understand
the Incarnation–and Christ himself teaches us to understand it in such a way
(Jn 3:16)–there is no longer any room to ask if the Incarnation would have
taken place apart from the Fall. The greater contains the lesser, the
conclusion presupposes the antecedent, and the concrete includes the general.
The love of God for fallen humankind, which finds it in no way repugnant to
take the failed nature of Adam, already contains the love of stainless
And that is expressed in the wisdom of the brief
words of the Nicene Creed: "for our sake and for our salvation." This
and, in all the diversity and all the generality of its meaning, contains the
theology of the Incarnation. In particular, this and can be taken in the sense
of identification (as that is to say). So it is understood by those who
consider that salvation is the reason for the Incarnation; in fact, concretely,
that is indeed what it signifies for fallen humanity. But this can equally be
understood in a distinctive sense (that is to say, "and in
particular," or similar expressions), separating the general from the
particular, in other words, without limiting the power of the Incarnation nor
exhausting it solely in redemption. The Word became flesh: one must understand
this in all the plenitude of its meaning, from the theological point of view
and the cosmic, the anthropological, the Christological and the soteriological.
The last, the most concrete, includes and does not exclude the other meanings;
so too, the theology of the Incarnation cannot be limited to the bounds of
soteriology; that would be, moreover, impossible, as the history of dogma bears
witness . . .
The Incarnation is the interior basis of
creation, its final cause. God did not create the world to hold it at a
distance from him, at that insurmountable metaphysical distance that separates
the Creator from the creation, but in order to surmount that distance and unite
himself completely with the world; not only from the outside, as Creator, nor
even as providence, but from within: "the Word became flesh". That is
why the Incarnation is already predetermined in human kind.
the Eighth Day of Christmas, we come to the Feast of the Holy Name/the Circumcision
Ah! Ah! That wonderful Name! Ah! That delectable
Name! This is the Name that is above all names, the Name that is highest of
all, without which no one hopes for salvation. This Name is sweet and joyful,
giving veritable comfort to the human heart. Verily the Name of Jesus is in my
mind a joyous song and heavenly music in my ear, and in my mouth a honeyed
sweetness. Wherefore no wonder I love that Name which gives comfort to me in
all my anguish. I cannot pray, I cannot meditate, but in sounding the Name of
Jesus. I savour no joy that is not mingled with Jesus. Wheresoever I be,
wheresoever I sit, whatsoever I do, the thought of the savour of the Name of
Jesus never leaves my mind. I have set it in my mind, I have set it as a token
upon my heart. What can one lack who desires to love the Name of Jesus
the Seventh Day of Christmas, we come to New Year’s Eve when
people often think about time, taking stock of the use they have made of their
time in the past year and contemplating a better use of it in the year to come.
in the blank: Time is _________.
expect most Americans would automatically answer, "Time is money."
But Jesus and subsequent Christian tradition fill in the blank differently.
Dante’s Purgatorio, those who are being purged of their sloth exhort one
Faster! Faster! We have no time to waste, for
time is love.
Try to do good, that grace may bloom again.
– ‘Purgatorio’, Canto XVIII, 103 – 105
waste time is to waste the opportunity to love. That, in brief, is the sin of
are reminded during this season that Love came down at Christmas:
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
– Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
is the fundamental message of Christianity, however poorly it has been lived by
said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have
loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that
you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).
have no time to waste. In the coming year, let us commit ourselves to lives that
conform to the Love that came down at Christmas to reveal to us that at the
heart of everything is God who is Love (1 John 4:7-21)